November 17th marks the beginning of Alcohol Awareness Week. Apart from the damage that alcohol abuse causes to the individual, it can also impact both colleagues and employers – should you be concerned about the impact on your business? When a survey of 65,000 drinkers (by the Global Drug Survey) shows that 45% of them had turned up for work in the last 12 months with a hangover, we would suggest that yes, you should.
In the UK, alcohol is often regarded as an integral part of our social interactions. Nobody is suggesting that you shouldn’t enjoy the odd glass of wine with dinner, however when drinking becomes excessive it can damage both physical and mental health, and have significant impact on all aspects of life.
Of those who drink, 5% are alcohol dependent and a further 5-10% are drinking at high risk levels. Overall it is estimated that 20-30% of adults drink above recommended guidelines. Part of the issue is people’s lack of awareness of what is safe to drink. The Global Drug Survey showed that approximately 50% of drinkers were unaware of their country’s safe drinking guidelines, and even when aware, only 5% paid attention to them.
More worryingly, the same study showed that many of the “at risk” respondents did not recognise or accept they had a problem, with 1 in 3 thinking their drinking was average or less than average.
Impact on businesses
The negative effects on businesses manifest in different ways. Absence, productivity and healthcare and other insurance costs can all be impacted. Managers and team members are often also affected, picking up the slack for a colleague who is not performing at their full capacity.
A study by the Institute of Alcohol Studies estimates that the financial cost of the above to UK businesses is £1.7 billion per annum. The Royal College of Physicians estimates the cost of alcohol abuse to the entire UK economy at £6 billion per year.
The presence at work of an employee who is suffering from the effects of alcohol abuse can also expose the company to risks in other areas. If an employee is operating machinery or undertaking complex non-manual work with a hangover, and a mistake happens, this could be extremely costly.
What can you do?
There is no single cause behind excessive alcohol consumption or the development of problematic drinking patterns. There is therefore is no single panacea which will fix the issue. The response needs to be multifaceted and embedded within a broader wellness strategy, with the workplace environment and policies supporting individuals to adopt healthier behaviours. For example, there should be clear corporate guidelines around the use of alcohol on the premises and during working hours.
Increasing understanding of acceptable drinking levels and giving individuals a clear picture of their actual consumption is also vital. The stats detailed above show that there is a disconnection between people’s perceptions and reality. There are many websites and apps which will offer an assessment of your consumption and provide feedback. One we have looked at, Drinks Meter, also uniquely adjusts consumption advice based on an individual’s personal risk profile as well as providing social normative feedback demonstrating how their drinking compares to other people.
Once an employee recognises that there is a problem, the next step is to provide support. There are many well publicised organisations that provide this. For companies that provide Drinks Meter to their employees, there is high level advice available, but support shouldn’t stop here. Employee Assistance Programmes can also offer help, and many providers offer posters and leaflets encouraging responsible use of alcohol.
Signposting to resources (such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Al-Anon Family Groups or Addiction) can also help to put employees on the path to recovery, by making them aware of the help available to them. You can also use the NHS website to search by postcode for local services to provide advice, support and treatment.
Christmas is coming
With the festive season rapidly approaching, now is the ideal time to implement a programme of communications to employees. This could take the form of desk drops, emails, intranet information, or even an alcohol awareness stand in your break room or other communal area.
If you are considering desk drops or a stand, on registering with them, The Drinkaware Trust is currently offering £85 worth of products (for example unit calculator wheels and unit measuring cups) free of charge – you can also access a wealth of PDF leaflets and posters to support your campaign.
Our consultants are passionate about employee wellbeing and support our clients in developing and considering all avenues that will ensure a healthier and more productive workforce. To find out more, please contact your usual consultant.